Despite, or perhaps because of the number of Yiddish-speakers who use walkers, canes, and wheelchairs, Yiddish has remained stubbornly resistant to efforts to empower the disabled. My father, who had only one leg, saw no irony in screaming kalyekeh or loomer (“cripple”) at cars with disabled stickers on their windows or with using the same words, along with hoyker (“hunchback”–it usually applied to someone hunched over the steering wheel), as insults pure and simple, without regard to the real physical condition of the person being insulted. Indeed, they were used more often for people straddling lanes, trying to parallel park or driving too slowly (for whom the proper Yiddish term is anybody-in-front; those with the chutzpah to pass from behind were generally dismissed with Gey, yug zakh; der feld ‘et bald antloyfn, “Come on, go as fast as you can; the cemetery’s gonna run away in a minute.”) than for those who were living with a disability. Despite the fact that he needed two canes and a prosthesis to get to the car and could drive only with the help of hand controls, the old man saw no irony in attributing fantasy versions of his own condition to his fellow drivers. In typically Yiddish fashion, he transferred his own tsuris–his own troubles–to others, where they could be viewed with the scorn that they really deserved.
This article originally appeared in The Jewish Week. Below are some items for sale from eBay for those of you with an interest in Yiddish.
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